Happy Hour Came Early in Ancient France

By: The Scribe on Friday, June 7, 2013

french wine 2It’s no secret that the French love their wine… but when did they begin this devotion-esque relationship with the vine? Recent chemical analysis of an ancient wine press from southern France has revealed that wine was produced quite a bit earlier than previously believed.

A team from the University of Pennsylvania, led by biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern, investigated artefacts from the ancient French coastal town of Lattara. Lattara is one of the best-preserved Iron Age sites in the country—and using modern scientific technology (mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy), researchers were able to analyse the residue left behind in ancient Etruscan and Massaliote amphorae.

The amphorae were discovered in the town’s merchant quarters—not a surprise, considering that around 600 B.C., the Etruscans were trading wine across the coastal French Mediterranean… while the Greeks (who also loved themselves a serving of wine or six) had an established colony at what is present-day Marseilles, France (then called Massalia).

The analysis of the amphorae confirmed that they’d once held wine, due to the presence of 2,500-year-old tartaric acid (this acid is naturally occurring in grapes). There were also chemical “fingerprints” of pine resin, rosemary, and basil—things thought to have either been added for flavoring, preservation during transport, or perhaps to boost medicinal properties.

MICHEL PY, L'UNITÉ DE FOUILLES ET DE RECHERCHES ARCHÉOLOGIQUES DE LATTESNot too far from where the amphorae were found, archaeologists also found a limestone pressing platform with tartaric acid residue, as well as grape skins and seeds scattered around. According to McGovern, “the combination of botanical and chemical evidence makes a pretty tight argument” for wine production at the southern French town of Lattara during the 5th-century.

A full study on these findings has just been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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